Photo: Trent and Ria Kitsch with the next generation
Kitsch Okanagan Valley Wines
winery, which opened its tasting room in late April with some of the best debut
wines from a new producer, owes much to an innovative brand of men’s underwear.
winery is owned by Trent and Ria Kitsch, members of a family that has been in
the Okanagan for almost 100 years, prominent in construction and housing
development. The owners, both Kelowna natives, bring a youthful energy to the
wine business. Trent was born in 1979; Ria, who went to the same high school,
was born three years later.
and athletic, Trent was drafted from high school by the Colorado Rockies
baseball team. That enabled him to play minor league ball in the United States
while going to college on a scholarship. Deciding he had a better future in
business than baseball, he finished his education at the elite Ivey School of
Business at the University of Western Ontario.
considered going into the construction business with his father but first
decided to develop an idea that had come to him in 2006 from his experience as
a ball player. The design of men’s underwear had been static and the garments
were not as comfortable as they could be. So with the help of a clothing
designer, he developed what is now known as the SAXX brand.
“I helped him
build the business,” says Ria, who has a business degree from the University of
British Columbia Okanagan. She topped that up with business studies in Austria
(including wine appreciation in Krems). After backpacking in South America, she
returned to Kelowna. She met Trent – he had not known her in high school – and
was impressed with his entrepreneurial ambition.
“I thought it was
ambitious to go after a whole category that hadn’t changed,” Ria says. “With my
business background, he suggested we could do that together. That sounded crazy
but I had nothing else to do. I was going to go to graduate school but instead,
I did a practical graduate school.”
They set out to build SAXX together,
sometimes with unconventional marketing. “We hustled hard,” Ria says. “We did
things guerilla style – opening a van door on the side of Robson street to tell
people about SAXX and trying to sell for cash; kind of ambushing the Vancouver
Marathon; different things to get noticed but stay on budget, which was
2010, the brand had been established and was poised to grow internationally.
“We had an exit strategy,” Ria says.
“For us it was essential that if it was going to be big, it get into the hands
of people that could make it big, because that wasn’t us. We needed to prove
the concept – that men would buy it and rebuy it at the price we valued it at.
$25 a pair is expensive for underwear. So we sold [the company] and that
allowed us to pursue our Okanagan dream of planting grape vines and starting
As interim step, they established a home
building company. One of the houses constructed by that venture for a Kitsch
family member looks over the 12.7-acre vineyard that was planted in 2013 and 2014.
The three-car garage attached to the baronial home has been converted into a
winery and tasting room.
The winery and vineyard occupies a
plateau in northeast Kelowna, with a panoramic view to the south over the city.
Okanagan Lake stretches into the distance almost to Peachland.
“We were lucky in having some great soil
to plant and people in the industry helping us to understand what to plant,”
Ria says. They reached out for advice to another old Okanagan family, the
Stewarts of Quails’ Gate Estate Winery. That winery’s viticulturist offered
valuable guidance on planting the four varieties now in the Kitsch vineyard.
The largest planting is Riesling, about
five acres in two blocks. The other varieties are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and
For their winemaker in 2015, Trent and
Ria recruited Grant Biggs, (right) who had spent the previous two years working at at Tantalus Vineyards. Before that, he had been an assistant
winemaker at Mt. Boucherie Vineyards, had done a crush with a large New Zealand
winemaker, and had enrolled in the distance learning program from the
University of California at Davis.
Grant was born in 1983 in Port Alberni.
He honed an early appreciation of wine while working in Victoria restaurants,
where he took a professional sommelier course.
“My grandfather, I think, is the reason
by I pursued a career in wine,” Grant says, referring to Italian-born Elio Navé.
“He used to order grapes from California – Zinfandel and Muscat – and we would
make wine in the basement together when I was growing up. I associated the
fondest memories with the foods that grandma was cooking and the wine that my grandpa
was drinking.” He adds that his grandmother is French.
“Baby Duck was my gateway wine,” Grant
laughs. “Coming from a French and Italian family, 19 was a number. It wasn’t
the legal drinking age. So on New Year’s Eve, I would get my little thimble of
Baby Duck. I think I was 11 when I wanted more.”
His appreciation of wine has grown
considerably since then. “I look at wine as a form of art,” he says – in a
tasting room where art is prominent on the walls. “I know wine is a blend of
science and art, but to me it is a beautiful piece of art.”
have art here that is in our collection,” Ria says. “These are a little more
contemporary in nature, a little more like street art. Our music is a little
bit more soft electronic. We are just trying to be true to who we are without
having any type of gimmick. We are here to fuse things that don’t go together
all the time, like youthfulness and sophistication, or refinement but still
approachability in our wines. That’s why we think people might be interested.
It is pretty authentic. Hand-touched, small-batch, single-vineyard-bottled.”
Grant is remarkably meticulous in making
wine. The vineyard’s two blocks of Riesling, planted in 2013, are about 100
metres apart in elevation. The grapes were picked on separate dates and were
fermented separately, with differing techniques.
“The juice from one of the blocks was
really clean,” Grant says. “I settled it really hard and did not take a lot of
the lees into ferment. With the other block, I took a lot of lees and had a
really heavy solids ferment. I used five different fermentation vessels [a pair
of 2,000-litre stainless steel tanks, a neutral oak barrel and two glass
carboys “just for fun”]. I think the barrel ferment adds a little bit to the
body. I used VL1, a Chardonnay yeast, for the barrel ferment. I used a couple
of nice aromatic yeasts for the two tank ferments.”
The Chardonnay grapes were the first to be picked last fall in the
Kitsch vineyard, on September 3, an early pick necessary to maintain the
acidity in a hot vintage. Grant’s model was a wine with the freshness of
Chablis, not with the boldness of what he calls a “California fruit bomb.”
“It was fermented in French oak; 40% was
second fill and 60% was neutral,” Grant says. “I was hoping to achieve a
gateway to Chardonnay. I did not want to mask the youthfulness of the fruit.”
The wine had 50 days in barrel, with several lees stirrings and was then racked
into stainless steel, with a blast of CO2 to keep the lees in suspension. “I
wanted it to be more of a texture driven wine with a good backbone of acid,
without going through malolactic fermentation.”
The Pinot Gris and the Pinot Noir were
made with fruit from a young vineyard in Lake Country. Grant deliberately
sourced grapes from a young vineyard to avoid the contrast in style that would
have occurred if he had used mature vines prior to fermenting the first harvest
from the young Kitsch vineyard.
The other strategy here is to make
single vineyard vines with grapes just from the north Okanagan – north of the
Bennett Bridge, Grant says.
“I don’t want to source fruit from the
south,” Grant says. “From here on, if there is any fruit to be had, it will all
be from the north Okanagan. And that fruit will go into a single vineyard wine
as well. I would never take that and put it in with any of our fruit. You need
to feel that sense of place from our property.”
In 2015, the first vintage for Kitsch,
the winery produced about 1,000 cases of wine, including 250 cases of Pinot
Noir still in barrel.
“Very small batch; very special,” Ria
says. “Every bottle is hand numbered and initialled by Grant.”
“We only made 12,000 bottles this year,”
Grant says. “It was a casual evening job.”
Here are notes on the wines.
Kitsch Pinot Gris 2015 ($19 for 178 cases). Two-thirds of the grapes
for this wines had 20 hours of cold soaking on the skins to bolster texture and
flavour. The wine begins with aromas of citrus and pears. On the palate there
are flavours of pear and ripe apple with a hint of anise on the finish. The
texture is full and juicy, but with a clean, refreshing finish. 92.
Kitsch Chardonnay 2015 ($20 for 202 cases). This barrel-fermented wine
begins with a lightly gold colour in the glass and with aromas of citrus and
apple. On the palate, there is a medley of fruit ranging from melon to apple to
pineapple and lemon. There is a very subtle note of oak on the finish. Good
acidity gives this wine a bright and lively finish. 92.
Kitsch Riesling 2015 ($22 for 392 cases). This wine begins with
aromas of lemon and lime, echoed on the palate. The flavours are surprisingly concentrated
for fruit from young vines, with a vibrant tension created by balancing nine
grams of acidity with 15.4 grams of residual sugar. This is good Riesling
terroir because the young vines also contributed a spine of minerality. 92.
Kitsch Pinot Noir 2015 (barrel sample). While this wine likely will
spend several more months in barrel, it already has a silky texture. There are
aromas and flavours of cherry with a hint of toasty oak on the finish. This is
a pretty Pinot Noir in a style sometimes referred to as “feminine.” 90-91.